By Phoebe Sherman I’m sitting in Meghan Shimek’s bright loft, her live-work space on the cusp of Oakland and Alameda. Her room is long and rectangular. The bed is situated right next to a mess of fiber, weavings, and looms, which are scattered amongst the village of legos that Megan and her son, Grey lovingly built. Above the long room is a loft where Grey sleeps. The space is a gentle chaos mashed with a serene light and deep inner knowing. Her pieces connote healing and softness within the organized disarray. Her cat makes an appearance to say hello.
If you haven’t heard of Meghan, you’ve been living under a rock, and you need to check out her website immediately. As a well-established fiber artist in the Bay Area, Megan’s work hangs in places such as The Assembly, Merchant Roots, and All Birds in San Francisco. She is a staple at the largest craft fairs, including West Coast Craft, and has held various solo shows in the Bay Area, Portland, and in Paris. Born in Flint, Michigan, Megan lived there until she was 27. After receiving degrees in both History and Nutrition, she moved to Washington D.C., where she did nutritional research at a farmer’s market and oversaw a program for food stamps.Meghan loved working with food and people, especially because, according to her, everyone is generally in a good mood at farmer’s markets. (so true). The spirit of D.C. just wasn’t quite for her though, and she wanted a change. She and her then boyfriend packed up their entire lives, and bought one-way tickets to San Francisco, both without jobs in the middle of a recession.
She found a job working with Farmer’s Markets out here in California, and with that work, she became interested in Agricultural systems, focusing on where our food comes from and how it is grown and raised. Through this work, she learned about how animals are raised for wool, which in turn led her to fiber. She had always “kinda knit and crocheted” since her teens and started to use fiber in her knitting.
When she went home to Michigan, her parents convinced her to take a class at the local yarn store. She took a workshop on weaving scarfs (these are the only two scarfs she has ever woven to this day) and then decided to try her hands at wall hangings. She just started playing, exploring, and became addicted to the art form. She woke up early in the morning to weave and when Grey went to bed at night or when he took a nap. She spent every chance she got at her loom. A couple months later, Nate, her then husband, got a job offer in Arizona, and they all moved together as a family. Grey started preschool, and Meghan, once again, had extra time to weave. She found a store in town and took Navajo weaving, floor weaving, and spinning classes. She said “which I’m terrible at. I don’t spin. Like yarn spinning not exercise spinning, which I’m also sure I’d be terrible at.” She started to weave more and began to post on Instagram. At some point she opened a small online shop.
At the end of 2013, just one year after starting her business selling weavings, Jessa Carter contacted Megan, saying that she had been following Meghan’s work and wanted some pieces for a pop-up at her gallery in Seattle. At that point Megan was using yarn, found objects- like bark, frawns, and raw fleece (curly like when it’s just been sheared and not processed).
A couple months later, Megan and her family moved back to San Francisco, where Megan began teaching workshops on weaving and fiber arts Then another gallery contacted her in Oakland. “These little opportunities started to present themselves,.” Megan said. There had been discussion of her going “back to work,” but the world’s kinda collided and she was able to put her energy into weaving and was able to get a bit of an income. An Oakland gallery owner encouraged her to apply for West Coast Craft (at the time in its second year as a craft show), and got in.
Then, her father unexpectedly passed away. And two weeks later, her marriage fell apart. “The rug was just ripped out from underneath me. My whole life was all of a sudden not my life anymore,.” Megan said.
“Being able to weave is what saved me. It was so mediative, it was an expression of everything I was going through.” According to Megan, weaving through these painful experiences allowed Megan to connect to others who had experienced loss as well, especially women.
“Being able to weave is what saved me. It was so mediative, it was an expression of everything I was going through. In our world, there is so much pain...there’s always war, there’s always death, and there are all these hard edges. I think this [my art] just feels really soft, feels really comforting, and it adds a softness and a texture to things that can speak to people. And [they connect to] knowing what I put into it, and where it came from, it came out of me.”
She had spent a month in Michigan when her father passed, and when she returned she had to make pieces for West Coast Craft, with not much time left. She learned she could weave fast with roving. Roving is the step before wool is spun into yarn. It is fluffy and thick and kinda looks like pieces of cotton candy. “Working with the material itself felt so good...it was really healing,” she said. “I could move my whole body. With tapestry weaving, you’re sitting there and beating it down. You don’t get to move as much.” Megan began getting more recognition from roving because of the unique quality to her work.. “No one was working with roving in this way,” she said. “This style I started to develop was my own. It was something really different.”
When she first started working with roving, she stuck to neutrals, whites and greys and blacks which are colors she usually wears, and also Grey’s name is Grey! In 2015 she started working with blues and greens, selecting only a few colors at a time due to the high cost of roving. To her amazement, she sold two large scale pieces at West Coast Craft, in addition to some smaller pieces. To her it felt like she had found her calling. She was doing something for herself, She was doing something that was recognized and that no one else was doing. Weaving with roving was not a common thing. “I knew I was an artist, when I saw that I had done something no one had done before. It wasn’t informed by anyone else’s work. I spent time developing what I was doing and finding my own voice in this work. To this day if people see this work, they knows it’s mine. That’s what defines when you become an artist.” She got a contract with the fashion retailer Splendid to make a piece for all of their American stores. They wanted indigos and whites.She inched her way through purples and some “creamsicle” colors and then last year she discovered red. Growing up, Megan rarely wore red (she claims it was due to her “rosy cheeks”), and she generally stayed away from using red in her work. This changed, however, after seeing a dancer wearing a bit of red roving interact with one of her pieces (a woven cocoon) at a show. Megan thought it was extremely powerful, and changed her mind about red. After the 2016 election, Megan describes a time when she felt like “All of my nerve endings were on the outside of my body. I was so sensitive, so upset. How were we going to get through this? And I think all of us did. We felt very raw, it was very difficult.” These sentiments inspired a piece titled Exposed, made up of two smaller white weavings connected with red roving. That was her first red piece, and she decided to run with the idea, next doing a show made up entirely of red pieces Today, Megan is working with a lot of creams, pinks, and earthy tones. She still loves working with the “creamsicle” palette and neutrals, but likes to experiment.
Meghan gives the ladies of Girl Gang Craft some advice:
Don’t undervalue your work.
Price your work to sell, not to sell fast. When you lower your prices, you lose value. “This is a creative expression, it’s not an hourly rate” 2. When you’re first starting out, say “yes” to everything. If something isit’s outside of your comfort zone, do it anyway-maybe you’ll love it, maybe you’ll hate it, and that is okay. Once you are more established then learn to say “no”. Say no to those opportunities that don’t nourish you. Create balance. 3. Keep on working, and don’t give up after rejection. Meghan serves as an inspiration to artists throughout the Bay Area. Her work is unique, consistent, playful, and brings a vibrancy to any residential or commercial space. Her calming paletes and literally soft pieces bring a gentle cohesiveness to any environment. She is a joy to talk to. Her works, like her thoughts, are decisive, steady, and warm. You can find more about Meghan and her work at https://www.meghanshimek.com.